UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Essays in public finance Hicks, Jeffrey S.


Each chapter of this thesis investigates one aspect of China’s taxation system. Chapter 1 investigates the introduction of accelerated depreciation (AD) for fixed assets investment in China as a natural experiment. In contrast to the large positive impact of similar tax incentives in the U.S. and U.K. found in recent studies, we document that AD was ineffective in stimulating Chinese firms' investment and that firms fail to claim AD on over 80% of eligible investments. We investigate information frictions as the primary driver of both facts. Chapter 2 documents new facts about the structure and drivers of China’s SI contributory base, with an emphasis on non-compliance. First, 54% of firms do not pay into the employer-based SI system leaving 35% of employees outside of SI coverage. Among participating firms, an estimated 85% of firms are not fully compliant. Second, compliance increases sharply with firm size. Third, China is unique in that SI administration and insurance pooling are done at sub-provincial levels. We investigate how this decentralization contributes to firm non-compliance. Chapter 3 applies the lessons from Chapter 2 to analyze China's primary fiscal response to the Covid-19 crisis: an exemption for firms from making SI contributions, resulting in an average tax cut of 21 percentage points on employment. Labor informality substantially reduces the reach of this fiscal response and skews the tax savings towards large firms. Offsetting this negative targeting is the much higher labor intensity of the firms most vulnerable and exposed to the economic shock, which creates a larger benefit from payroll tax cuts for these firms. Chapter 4 studies the transition from a turnover tax (TT) to a value-added tax (VAT). This reform, the largest Chinese tax reform in a quarter-century, mostly eliminated the taxation of firm inputs. We assess the effects on production, investment, and outsourcing. We find minimal effects on firm output but large increases in fixed asset investment. The latter is driven by an effective 17 percentage point reduction in the tax rate on fixed asset purchases. We also find mixed evidence on whether outsourcing increased due to the reform.

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